There is currently no way to test for Parkinson’s disease in a laboratory.
This means that by the time a person ends up in front of a neurologist with symptoms the often irreversible brain damage has already occurred.
Well now researchers at RMIT University, Melbourne, have developed a test that can, with an accuracy of 93%, successfully diagnose Parkinson’s simply from the way that you draw a spiral on a piece of paper.
The diagnostic test doesn’t require any specially designed hardware and uses existing technology such as smart paper that can digitise the way you draw using a pen.
Chief investigator Professor Dinesh Kumar believes the test is particularly vital because Parkinson’s can be very treatable but only if it’s caught early enough.
“Pushing back the point at which treatment can start is critical because we know that by the time someone starts to experience tremors or rigidity, it may already be too late,” Kumar said.
So how does it work? Quite simply it ties into the knowledge that Parkinson’s patients struggle with writing and sketching. Until now though being able to turn that knowledge into a reliable testing method have proven difficult.
“The customised software we’ve developed records how a person draws a spiral and analyses the data in real time. The only equipment you need to run the test is a pen, paper and a large drawing tablet.” explains Kumar.
What’s really impressive is that not only can the test diagnose Parkinson’s with a 93% success rate but it can even grade the severity of the condition and how far along a person is.
It’s important to note that the study size was fairly small - just 62 patients. It did however include a broad range of patients who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s but were showing a range of symptoms including some that were showing no symptoms at all.
With such a small study size the team know there’s still more work to be done, but with such a strong initial result they believe this could be a product that revolutionises how we diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s.
“We’re hopeful that in future doctors or nurses could use our technology to regularly screen their patients for Parkinson’s, as well as help those living with the disease to better manage their condition.” Says Kumar.
Parkinson’s affects more than 10 million people worldwide and in the UK a person is diagnosed with Parkinson’s every single hour.